HOUSTON, Aug. 4, 2021 – An African American woman, Sharnez Kavonn Hager, has filed an appeal with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, challenging a lower court’s dismissal of her racial discrimination lawsuit against Chili’s Grill & Bar, owned by Brinker International, Inc. (NYSE: EAT).
The lawsuit accuses Chili’s of racial discrimination for refusing to seat her at an open table, only to later offer the table to another customer, who was white.
When confronted, the restaurant hostess said the white customer had reserved the table. But Ms. Hager knew that to be a lie, as the white customer was her fiancé, who had been waiting outside.
According to an appellate brief, the hostess in question later apologized to Ms. Hager for discriminating against her. The document also says Chili’s initial response to her discrimination complaint was to offer her $100 in gift cards.
“I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a case of racial discrimination that is as plainly obvious and as poorly handled as this one,” says Brian Trachtenberg of Greathouse Holloway McFadden Trachtenberg, who represents Ms. Hager in the case. “What happened that night and everything since were designed to make Sharnez feel like a second-class citizen.”
Dallas-based Brinker later assigned someone to investigate the case, though he had no experience in such cases, failed to speak with key witnesses, never asked any questions about race, and later destroyed his notes.
According to the lawsuit, Ms. Hager and her party – all of them African American – entered the Chili’s restaurant in Rosenberg, Texas, in March 2017, and asked for a table that appeared available. A hostess said the table was reserved.
But 20-25 minutes later, when a white man arrived and asked for a table for a large party, he was immediately given the “reserved” table. When Ms. Hager asked the hostess why the man had been offered the table, the hostess claimed he was the person who reserved it.
The hostess did not know, however, that the man was Ms. Hager’s then-fiancé (now husband), Kevin Hager, who had been waiting outside. And not only had he not made reservations, but Chili’s restaurants do not accept reservations.
The appellate filing notes that when confronted with the truth, the hostess responded with, “Oh my God. I’m so sorry.”
Several weeks later, when Chili’s management invited Ms. Hager back to the restaurant, the same hostess came to the table and said, “I apologize for discriminating against you.”
Chili’s later disciplined the hostess for putting Ms. Hager in what it called a “false wait,” meaning she should have been seated at a table. The company also disciplined the general manager at the Rosenberg Chili’s for failing to train the staff about bias.
The case is Sharnez Kavonn (Lipscomb) Hager v. Brinker Texas, Inc. D/B/A Chili’s Grill & Bar, Cause No. 4:19-cv-00595, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, Houston Division.
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SOURCE Greathouse Holloway McFadden Trachtenberg